seeking a match

Across one city, many voices from the 2013 high school search

Students from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism visited high school fairs across the city last weekend. Click on the markers on the map to learn more about some of the students they met.

 

Middle-schoolers and their parents packed five New York City high school fairs last weekend to find a high school they could call home for the next four years.

Each borough hosted a fair filled with high school teachers and counselors eager to answer questions, ease fears, and sell their schools to eighth-graders who sometimes seemed dazed at the range of choices.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Jonathan Aguilar, 13, from the fair in Queens. “I’ve been walking through the school booths just taking papers from all of them.”

“Parents always have the same question, every time,” said Ken Irabor, 48, a teacher from Park Slope Collegiate in Brooklyn. “They want to know if the schools are safe, if there’s bullying. That’s a big concern these days.”

Some schools said they emphasize that their safety concerns are not limited to physical bullying. “We teach kids the importance of being careful what they put on the Internet,” said Donald Amsterdam, 32, from Kingsborough Early College School. “If there’s less things online for bullies to use, they won’t have that material.”

All eighth-graders in New York City must apply to high school, even if they live in the few areas of Staten Island and Queens that still offer “zoned” schools guaranteeing enrollment for local students. Students rank up to 12 schools that they want to attend and schools rank the students who apply using a wide range of criteria. Then an algorithm matches schools and students, typically placing about half of students in their first-choice schools and 90 percent in schools that they ranked.

Because students can pick schools in any borough, many parents said they were worried about how long their children would commute to high school.

“We hope to find a school that’s good and close to my home,” said Amani Al Aksry, 46, who took her daughter Usra Al Yafai, 14, to the Bronx fair at the Theodore Roosevelt Educational Campus. The two prepped for the fair a few days earlier by mapping several schools.

Al Yafai is also preparing for her high school selection by taking the Specialized High School Admissions Test Oct. 26.

Tests weighed heavily on some parents minds this year. Damian Smith said he hopes schools consider the citywide drop in scores when students took the Common Core exam for the first time last spring, which resulted in lower test scores citywide. The city is telling screened schools to look at students with lower scores than they might have considered in the past, but Smith thinks schools should consider previous years’ scores when they weigh students like his son, Kenneil.

“He did good on the sixth grade test,” Smith said. “Not so sure about seventh grade.”

Eliazar Ramirez, 14, went to the fair in the Bronx to see schools that might suit her. She thinks she already knows her top choice: the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts near Lincoln Center in Manhattan. LaGuardia is a well-known performing arts school that offers conservatory-style arts education in addition to normal classes.

With only limited experience in the arts so far, her guidance counselor is helping her assemble a portfolio (both visual and vocal) for the art schools she is applying to.

Victoria Aranowicz, 14, plans to audition for the Professional Performing Arts High School in Manhattan with a song from “A Chorus Line” and a monologue from “The Crucible.” Her mother was positive but realistic about her daughter’s chances. “We’re going to stand by and support her in pursuing her dream,” she said. “But there’s stiff competition. You have to be better than the twenty kids sitting next to you.”

The teachers and counselors staffing their respective high school tables at the fairs typically have only a couple minutes to sell four years of learning to interested students – and their parents.

Teachers said that parents are more concerned about how high school can help their children prepare for careers, while the kids are more interested in having fun.

“Parents are looking at careers, students are looking for sports and extracurriculars,” said Lisa Wales, who teaches math at Midwood High School. “In Brooklyn we’re lucky, we generally have a bit more green space the kids can use.”

Midwood, like most of the high schools represented, used the borough-wide fair as a recruitment opportunity. In the few minutes they usually had with students and parents, the teachers at the tables always asked for contact details in order to send students more information and invite them to make personal visits to campus open houses.

That was easier at the borough fair than at the massive citywide fair, held last month at Brooklyn Technical High School. The Department of Education estimated that about 36,000 people attended the two-day fair.

“We’ve got it down to the kids that have narrowed their choices down to the borough of Brooklyn, so we can really get to them at a more personal level. The small venue helps, it’s not a madhouse,” said Joe Arzuaga, who was in charge of George Westinghouse High School’s booth.

Meanwhile, in Queens, some students ran into problems with test score expectations. Ian Tasch is an eighth-grader from Forest Hills. One of the first booths he and his family visited was Jamaica’s Thomas A. Edison Career & Technical Education High School, where Ian was told that his test scores weren’t high enough to get in. Ian’s mother said that they wouldn’t waste any time visiting selective schools; they would rather find a school where Ian would be comfortable.

“It’s about what’s doing right for your kid, how to help him be successful,” she said.

Students and parents left the fairs carrying armloads of flyers and ads from schools.The teachers staffing the school booths hoped they would see them again — perhaps for the next four-plus years.

“Voices From the 2013 High School Search” is a project of Tim Harper’s Craft 1 class at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Kayle Schnell led development of the map and Graham Corrigan wrote this story. Students from the class contributed reporting.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.